CHICAGO
07/20/2010 04:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Field Museum Returning Inuit Remains It Stole From Marked Graves

Eighty-three years ago, an anthropologist from the Field Museum dug up the remains of 22 people from marked graves in Labrador, Canada, despite the objections of the local population.

Now, the museum is working with Inuit officials to return the bodies to the graveyard to be laid to rest.

William Duncan Strong went on a 1927 expedition to Labrador with a research team to Zoar, an abandoned Moravian village on Inuit land. He was traveling in the hopes of learning more about the origins and lifestyles of the native peoples, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. While there, he excavated the remains from a graveyard made by the Inuit who lived in the area.

"They didn't have permission from the community to do this and, in fact, did it knowing the community was unhappy," Helen Robbins told WBEZ. Robbins works at the Field Museum's Department of Anthropology as the Repatriation Director.

And Museum President John McCarter said in a news release, "[T]hese actions did not comply with ethical archaeological practices, either past or current."

There is no record of the bodies ever having been on display at the museum.

In 2008, the government of Nunatsiavut, which represents five Inuit communities in Labrador province, alerted the museum to the situation, and Field Museum officials began acting to right its past wrong.

The museum is paying the cost of transporting the 22 bodies back to their home in Labrador. According to WBEZ, it will take "about four plane rides and a boat trip" to get the skeletons back home, a trip that they will likely take next summer.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Field Museum is home to the remains of many thousands of individuals, including 1,700 from the Americas alone. They are of use for anthropological research, but when the museum determines they were collected improperly, it works to return them.

Johannes Lampe of the Nunatsiavut government gave the museum credit, but was eager to resolve the situation. "We are working together with the Field Museum to do the right thing," he said, according to the Sun-Times. "I feel we need to bring them back, to find their resting place, to rest in peace."